On this, my 30th…

I suppose I was looking to wake up feeling different or smarter as I embark on my 31st year. Alas, such forlorn thinking is reserved for the movies. Rather, I woke up just a little more grateful for those people in my life I call “friends” and a little more grateful for the grace of God.

I suppose I didn’t deserve the previous 30 years and to remember that I don’t deserve this day might serve my gratefulness a little more too. I offer this note of thanks to every single individual that I have crossed paths with, perhaps even leaving in my wake a trail of pain, love or ambivalence. To each of you, I say thank you for sowing a piece of yourself into my tapestry and letting me sow a bit of myself into yours.

It’s not easy to look back on the choices I’ve made that have caused others hurt but to look back on those choices at all is itself an act of God’s mercy. I believe more today than ever before in the notions of sovereignty, providence and free will. I believe more today than ever before that life is a gift and to celebrate that gift is divine.

To those who might read this and are suffering under the weight of an unfair hand, I admonish you with this simple word: “wait“. Time can be the cruelest of enemies and the best of friends. The gift of time is perspective and the gift of perspective is contentment. Settle deeply into the weight of what ails you and know that waiting will yield your catharsis.

For those of you who know me and my life at the intersection of introversion and extroversion, I offer you this brief poem in an unusual moment of lucidity:

Time waits for no man
and I list blissfully in her arms
like a babe cognizant of a
distant tomorrow.

Time waits for no woman
and I resist her grip
like a toddler longing for
the freedom of open space.

Time waits for no child
and I gaze unyieldingly
at the choices of a
blurring yesterday.

Time waits not for me
as I’m confronted with the
choices of a new day
and another year.

Time waits for no man
to discern how absolutely gracious
she has been for the gift of
time.

On this, my 30th…I am loved and so are you.

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why I love those Renovatus parents.

This past weekend at Renovatus was an exceptional one for me.  It’s quite an exceptional church to begin with.  However, after spending time with families and parents, planning for activities and watching life happen, I came to the conclusion that I want to be more like the members of this particular community.

You see, I don’t have any children yet but when I do, I hope to emulate the love of those Renovatus parents.  Here’s why:

They love their God well.  I recently heard a pastor say that he loves his wife and children best when he loves his Lord first.  I’ve seen this time and again in those who choose to love their families well.  Renovatus parents create and cherish sacred spaces to hear the voice of the Lord.  They abide in Him and He in them.  They are captivated by the love of one Father, who in turn shows them what it means to love their children.  They love their God well.

They love their spouses well.  Not every parent is married and not every child has two parents living with them.  Fortunately, because of the above point, there remains grace enough for the journey of parenthood.  For those who are married, I see a consistent tenacity to make their marriage a foundation for parenthood.  In about a week, well over 50 members of our community will be on a marriage retreat.  They do this for love, hope and strength.  They love their spouses well.

They love their children well.  Renovatus parents love their children in word and in deed.  They love them in truth and in discipline.  They bring them to church.  They pray Hannah prayers.  Listening to their hearts at a parenting workshop, I heard some goals.  Their goal isn’t perfection, it’s honesty.  It’s trusting and obeying.  It’s seeking, weeping and believing on behalf of the gift that God has granted.  Through labors of love, the wonder and sheer entertainment of children, God shows Himself faithful in their innocence.  Renovatus parents speak into a future they cannot see.  Renovatus parents love their children well.

They love each other well.  Sitting at that same parenting workshop, I listened as parents shared their wins and failures with each other.  In an age where individuality has become the hallmark of spirituality, Renovatus parents lean into and upon their community.  They reach out to each other for support, including watching someone else’s children at church or at home.   Phone calls are made, letters are sent, food is prepared and clothes are donated all in the name of love for another.  They love each other well.

Finally, listen to the words of 1 John 4:7-12 as Eugene Peterson phrases it in The Message: My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love. This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.  My dear, dear friends, if God loved us like this, we certainly ought to love each other. No one has seen God, ever. But if we love one another, God dwells deeply within us, and his love becomes complete in us—perfect love!

the space between absence and presence.

Do you ever wish there was a delete button for your life?  Like, you could highlight a certain thing you said or did and just magically erase it?

What if our entire life was written out on an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper and editing was simply a matter of ‘undo, redo, cut, copy and paste’?  What would you rewrite?

I used to think (and still act to a degree) on the notion that if I could just get rid of a certain mistake or prevent a temptation or stop a sin then my paper would be perfect and I wouldn’t need the delete button.  I was convinced that then my 8.5 x 11 would make my Father proud.

This idea, however, met reality when I found that sins like to lurk behind each other.  For example, when I felt that pornography didn’t have near the stranglehold as it once did, there furtively waiting in the shadows of my soul lay a bed of anger, perhaps an even more dangerous enemy.

I’ve spent so much time trying to erase what I have done or focused on abstaining from a sin, I’ve forgotten that freedom is found in a better way.

The freedom that I’ve longed for isn’t in my energy to abstain; it’s in my energy to pursue.

The object of that pursuit isn’t to be a “better person“.  I’m not interested in the next self-help bestseller.  My pursuit is for the presence of God, manifested in what I know, who I am and what I do.

However, that presence won’t be manifest just because I was able to abstain from a sin.  That would mean it’s about me and about my attempt to manipulate the Father.

The mere absence of a sin doesn’t suddenly mean that God is now able or even willing to invade my life with blessing or clarity.  I’ve spent a majority of my life focusing on the absence of one sin or the other when God has been saying, “Spend less time on that absence and more time in My presence.”

If my 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper were filled with the pursuit of His presence then I would find much less need for the delete button.  Unlike the false space between love and obedience, there is a very real space between the absence of sin and the presence of God.

Seeking that absence would mean I’m more than human, more than frail and broken.  Seeking His presence would mean that I accept my humanity, that my frailty and brokenness are His delight.

It’s in His presence that I will find fullness of joy and strength.  Finally, here are the words of Eugene Peterson, paraphrasing the Apostle Paul:

I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.

the space between love and obedience.

September 12, 1922.  The day wedding vows were rewritten.

Over time, even something as traditional as the marriage covenant has to evolve.  The section on matrimony in The Book of Common Prayer from 1662 has the classic line ” to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part…”  This book has been just about as influential on the English language as the King James Bible or the works of Shakespeare.  It has also influenced generations of newlyweds.

However, on Sept. 12, 1922 the Episcopal church voted to remove the words “to obey” from the marriage vows.  Why did they do that?  Most likely to align with a more modern view of women’s roles in the family and society at large.  Perhaps even with the hope of establishing more egalitarian principles between a husband and wife.

Regardless of the Episcopal motivation, this divorce of love and obedience in the marriage covenant does have some legitimate implications.  My point here isn’t to argue whether the word “obey” should or shouldn’t be included.  Instead, my point is to imagine if we were to truly dichotomize love and obedience.

What would we have?  Obedience without love is but religion and love without obedience are but empty words and promises.  If I confess to love someone then I am binding myself to them and therefore obeying a moral and ethical obligation to them.  The fact is that love and obedience cannot be separated.

Love for God, however, isn’t the rote memorization and strict adherence to a static list of commandments.  Love for God is dynamic, breathing and perhaps even dangerous.  Just like renewing marriage vows, we should continuously say “How can I love, honor and obey my Father?”  I have the suspicion that if you were to ask the Lord how you can obey, He would answer in a clear voice.

On the one hand there is space between love and obedience.  It’s a false space we create to hide in and hope that our religiosity will keep us comfortable.

On the other hand, there isn’t space between love and obedience.  Kind of like the space that’s eliminated when we covenant with someone in marriage.  There is no more ‘private’ when two become one.  In the context of marriage vows, maybe obedience was never about the submission of one gender to the other but more so about simply offering ourselves to the other.

My hope in believing all this is both simple yet audacious.  It’s to fearlessly obey the Father because He fearlessly loves me.  My hope is that our obedience both begins with and is perfected by His love.  My hope is to diminish the space between love and obedience, until the two are synonymous.

One thing hasn’t changed.  The wedding vows in the Book of Common Prayer still say “…till death us do part.”

Now to obey the one who’s defeated death itself…that’s something else entirely.

love sick_an elementary curriculum_part three

Thank you to Colea Henderson for writing this lesson.  She took it in a more reflective direction, which I really like.  Huge thank you to Jake Page as well for the fantastic artwork.

Week#3 – 1 John 2:3-11

The Key to Loving God?  Obedience. Continue reading